Visions displayed on the monitors
Burning Rangers was being developed throughout 1997. Screenshots and videos of the in-progress game appeared in gaming magazines and online throughout that year. It was originally planned to come out in time for Christmas, but it was ultimately delayed and wasn't released until February of 1998 in Japan.
Various parts of the game seem to have been changed during its development. Here's a look at some of the changes we know about. If you have information on other things that got cut from the game, do get in touch!
No, we're not going to start with versus mode. Everyone knows about versus mode. We're going to start with rings.
This video, from a tape distributed by the French Player One magazine, shows an early build of Burning Rangers. Right of the bat you'll notice that it's got a different HUD, which shows a compass and a shield system that didn't make it into the final game.
And at 20 seconds in, Shou is seen in a room with Sonic-style rings. I'm so curious about this! Are these some leftovers from reused Sonic Jam code? Do they have something to do with the 1 item?
It's a little odd that the Rangers have to go up against mutant flora and fauna, out-of-control defense robots, and... some demon thing (?) with glorified fire extinguishers. Some early magazine articles speculated about being able to acquire weapon upgrades, but the final game has Shou and Tillis stick with the same capabilities throughout.
There are some voice clips that support the idea that there was more to the weapons system at some point. The sound test in the final game has two clips (one for Shou and one for Tillis) that go something like this (audio sample):
Shou: Boy, this weapon really sucks. What should I do now?
Chris: I'll transport the other members' weapons onto yours. Activating mega fusion process.
Big: Shou, catch!
Tillis: Here's mine!
Maybe this was deemed to be too close to Power Rangers?
You can play as Big, Chris, Lead, and Iria using special passwords. Were they ever intended to be primary characters like Shou and Tillis?
I think the answer is no. The earliest coverage of the game describes Shou and Tillis as the primary characters and the other Rangers as secondary. However, in an interview with GamesTM, BR game designer Takao Miyoshi describes how the other Rangers could have been playable:
For example, in one scene where Shou was trapped in a small room, we were planning to suddenly give the player control of Big Landman, who would have needed to enter the room from an adjacent area by destroying the wall between him and Shou, and then Big would have secured an escape route for Shou. We wanted to include a system where brief side stories such as this would be collected
Only small hints of this made it into the final game. Shou and Tillis encounter each other in Mission 2, but can't interact. The Rangers do team up in Mission 4, but you don't get a chance to control Big or Lead.
Versus mode (updated for 2023!)
OK, now we'll do versus mode. Everybody knows about this one because of the two screenshots that Sega Saturn Magazine (the UK one) published in Issue 30. The text says:
As we speculated a couple of months previously, the two-player mode takes the form of a Virtual-On style battle, with the two protagonists engaging in aerial combat in a vast metallic arena... Quite how this will work in practice we're not quite yet sure, as the bugs in our pre-production version prohibit any prolonged gameplay.
The screenshots show Shou and Tillis taking shots at each other in something that resembles the training area that appears in the final game.
Some remnants of this mode seem to have made it into the final game. The voice test (available on YouTube) has several clips of characters bragging about winning:
[05:47.000 --> 05:51.000] No matter how many times I try, I can't lose.
[05:51.000 --> 05:57.000] No matter how you slice it, a victory is a victory.
[05:57.000 --> 06:03.000] I won, but I must admit, that was pretty sloppy about it.
[06:21.000 --> 06:25.000] Ha ha, looks like I won.
The December 1, 1997 Prototype, which was published by hiddenpalace.org in 2021, has VS MODE in its menu screen. But selecting it doesn't do anything, alas.
That was the state of our knowledge up until 2023. But then the January 3rd, 1998 prototype resurfaced. This version of the game has Versus Mode in! I've now played it; here's a video.
More multiplayer modes
The prototype version of the game has a "Player-2" option hidden on the debug menu. This enables a kind of co-op mode, which allows a second player to play alongside the first, a la Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (there is footage available on YouTube). It's not clear when this feature was cut.
Early videos of the game, such as the ones that came on the Flash Sega Saturn Vol. 24 disc (video) show a different type of multiplayer mode. Shou and Tillis can be seen running together onscreen and also fighting the robots from Mission 1
In a 2020 interview with polygon.com, game designer Takao Miyoshi mentioned that there was even a network mode planned:
[Burning Ranges] was initially created as a network-compatible game with four players who go on a rescue mission. But there were network issues that we couldn’t overcome, so it was released as a regular, offline game. That was a game that I had created with online in mind but [in which the online part] didn’t make it past the planning stage.
The experience with BR informed how the team approached Phantasy Star Online, which came out for the Dreamcast in 2000.
The Rangers all have numbers: Chris is 1, Big is 3, Lead is 5, Tillis is 6, Shou is 7, and Iria is 8. So what about 2 and 4?
Issue 26 of Sega Saturn Magazine (the UK one) captioned a random image with this mystifying text (scan):
Rumours are already flying regarding hidden characters and "evil" Burning Rangers!
In Issue 31, the magazine interviewed members of Sonic Team. One of the questions they asked was:
Q. Can you tell us why the BR numbers aren't sequential? Where are BR No. 2 and No. 4?
A. At the moment we can't tell you that. It's a secret. It's still a hidden part of BR. For the present, we don't have any plans to reveal the meaning behind this, not even in Japan. To the extent that it might be linked to Burning Rangers 2, it's still a long way off.
When asked whether leftover ideas would appear in a sequel, Sonic Team answered "They might (laughs)."
This is the sort of joy you can expect from close reading Burning Rangers. If you have some other obscure knowledge about the game, send it to me! I'm memory_fallen on Twitter.